Problems associated with the diagnosis of vitality in burned bodies.Forensic Sci Int. 2003 Aug 27; 135(3):197-205.FS
The most important signs of vitality in burned bodies are soot deposits in the respiratory tract, the esophagus and the stomach as well as elevated CO-Hb values in the blood. But these findings show only that a person was exposed to fire fumes while alive; they are no indicator for vital heat exposure. As the external findings in burned bodies are often not very conclusive due to postmortem consumption by the fire, the internal findings are all the more important. Macroscopic signs that hot fumes were inhaled may be edematous swelling and vesicular detachment of the mucosa in the pharynx, the larynx and/or the upper section of the esophagus. As histological changes in the respiratory tract soot deposits, vesicular detachment of the epithelium, hyperemia and edema of the tracheal and bronchial mucosa as well as increased secretion of mucus have been described. These findings may partly be absent although the victim was alive during the fire, which can make diagnosis more difficult. Especially in peracute deaths vitality findings are usually sparse. The significance of the macroscopic and histological parameters of vitality was systematically investigated on the basis of our own autopsy material from the years 1996-2002 (88 cases) and compared with the statements found in the literature. In our study material, the vitality parameters were incomplete in 23% of the burned corpses. In 3% of the cases the question whether there was an antemortem heat exposure could not be answered.